Chapter 21 – Paradise
Somehow we had broken the window and we lay tangled up together in venetian blinds and glass. I had cut my face and Chase had cut his arm, but it was nothing serious. Chase helped me get vertical. We were safe in Chase’s room, and we were alive. How ever many lives we were “down”, it seemed we had some left. Life itself seemed an incredible treasure.
We collapsed together on the bed. “Thank God for transitional objects,” I gasped.
Chase passed me a water bottle. We blotted each other’s wounds.
“Am I the transitional object?” asked Chase, kissing my knuckles. I felt the solidity of the bed with its honeycomb quilt and Spiderman sheets.
“I think everything that’s not us is a transitional object,” I said slowly. “We have to look for the pieces that don’t fit. Remember the vase I hit your father with?”
Chase nodded. “That was so weird. My Dad despised what he called “femininities” – he would never have allowed an object like that in his Man- cave. Have we seen it before? ”
I had recognized it. “It was on the terrace at Mrs. Corso’s…full of dead chrysanthemums.”
We looked at each other, both saying at once, “Transitional object!”
“It shows our voyages are all connected.” He took the water bottle from me, shuddered as he sipped, threw himself on his back. “You were right there, but I can’t believe we experienced the same thing? Did you go through what I went through?”
That was a good question. Could it ever be answered?
“It was crazy,” I said, drinking. I was so thirsty, but I didn’t have the terrible hangover of the first time. “Celebrating your mother’s birthday in a Norman castle at Christmas.”
Light sprang into his eyes as he leaned forward intensely. He could have been anyone seeking news from home. Then the light failed as he remembered and fell backwards. Rubbed the eyes that had seen too much. “I guess my unfinished baggage derailed us from what we should have done”.
Always with the self-punishment! I shook my head. “No. Because we finally found out the truth.” And then I remembered what the truth was, and the full horror of what we had discovered swarmed over me. Could that be real, that, minds banished, bodies hijacked for indentured servitude? And did I really want to know?
“Do you think she forgave me?” Chase inquired wistfully. I tried following his thought. “Your mother?”He wiped his face, which was wet. With water or tears?
“Her birthday actually is in August. But she killed herself the Christmas I refused to come home.”
So that’s what he’d been living with! Poor Zoya! I was aghast. No wonder he needed to see her again. “She toasted to life,” I recalled. “Don’t you remember? To life…and she said what’s past is past. I recall that distinctly.” I touched his chest, massaging his heavy heart to keep it going. “I know she’s forgiven you. On the other hand, your father…”
Chase shook his head from side to side, tossing away the painful thoughts. “You know we never lived in that house. That was the house they were building when my Dad declared bankruptcy. But you know the Many Worlds theory of quantum mechanics says if more than one outcome of events is possible, all of them occur. Just in different universes.”
“None of the bad stuff is your fault,” I asserted forceful as I knew how. “Your father was a monster.”
“Yeah.” agreed Chase hopelessly. “Everything for him is a dominance struggle. And he’ll cheat to win.”
“Those plaster statues of you and your sister…” Deliberately I changed the subject, someone backing away from a raging fire.
“Those were life-casts. Mom made them, but I wrecked mine. It took hours and we had to breathe through straws. It was really unpleasant, being naked in cold plaster and having to hold still, but Mom was very determined. I was so angry that she didn’t have the nerve to make mine anatomically correct. I felt like a Ken doll. It was during the Corso years and she made me look unfinished, like a girl. Dad was already teasing me for singing soprano… I was so full of rage. I smashed it to pieces.”
“Bex shot us,” I said. “Do you think Bex could really have a gun?”
“And I wrecked Shelby. Like I wreck everything.”
“But if we’re still here the Shelby must be, too. Where would Bex get a rifle? Maybe he traded in his motorcycle.” That really scared me. He would be giving himself no way out. “And where would Bex get a car?”
I answered my own question. “That’s a no brainer. He’d steal it. He always bragged he could get into any car. Wouldn’t faze him.”
“Maybe he stole a rifle,” said Chase without thinking. We looked at each other. Not cheered up. “Or it’s just symbolic or something,” suggested Chase. “A transitional object.”
Yeah…symbolic of learning to judge people and see inside them. Like now I had seen inside Chase. I clutched his hand. “We took a bath together…don’t you remember that?”
He kissed my arm all the way up. “It was like being reborn. Like we were kids together.”
“We are kids together. And I learned your real name.”“Don’t say it!” he touched my lips superstitiously as if those secret words had the power to send us back.
I fell back on the bed, looking at the ceiling, trying to clear my mind. Now that Chase had transferred his roiling thoughts to me, my mental crystal ball felt cloudy. “What I don’t understand is how we can experience things that never happened, in places that don’t exist.”
He said, “It’s a fractal. A repetitive pattern.”
“From the past?”
He shrugged. “You can dip your hand in the same river twice…unless the river doubles back. I think we voyaged in my head. ” He didn’t sound enamored of the idea.
“Or we created a parallel universe together.” I suggested, more confidently. “It’s like a poem, or a symphony. You take the pieces that exist and rearrange them, the better to show off their power.”
“Did you hear about the maze worms?”
The threatening wind poured in the broken window so I pulled up the coverlet. “Tell me about the maze worms. Please please please.”
“Well, after these worms got really good at negotiating a maze, they ground them up and fed them to newbie worms. And the newbie worms figured out the maze immediately.”
I shuddered. “I don’t want to be ground up and fed to future generations so they can avoid my mistakes!”
He laughed out loud. “You’re missing the point of the story! It proves memories are chemical!”
“Well, I want to forget mine,” I said soberly, pulling the covers over my head.
He held me. He rocked me. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Can you ever forgive me? I thought the pain would keep me awake. But I guess you can get used to anything.”
So that explained the disgusting sore he’d cultivated. I pulled my covers off abruptly. “Is it true? Did Corso really turn dream lab into internet sex-walking?” Here was the dragon in the room. The question was whether Pandora’s box was smashed forever.
“It makes sense to me.” Chase almost choked. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I should have killed him before he could –” He struck his forehead hard with his fist. I pulled his hand down.
“Stop it. We can’t let this tear us apart. You know that’s what he wants — to keep us weak, to keep us from fighting back. We’re closer than ever. That means we’re stronger than ever.” Now I really knew what Chase had been through. Body – stolen – identity – ruined – future — compromised.
We held each other as tightly as we could until our two hearts beat together.
“I swear I didn’t know,” said Chase. “But the hell of it is, I could have guessed.”
“Forgive yourself,” I insisted. “I’m trying to forgive myself. He injured us both of us — together.”
“If you can do it I can try.” Hipbone to hipbone, chest to chest, knee to knee, we clung together. We’re soulmates, and soulmates are invincible.
““I love it that our dream’s a mix of both of us,” said Chase. “It’s like a child we had. Makes me feel like a creator.” He expelled a long sigh. “My grandmother believed that man and woman form one angel.”
“Sounds like a forward-thinking lady,” I murmured. “Maybe we knew each other in another life?”
He kissed my hair. “We know each other in this one. That’s a lot. “
It’s like we’ve climbed the highest mountain there is.
I said, “To defeat a body thief we’ve got to use our brains. The secret’s hidden in our soul-flights. Have to be.”
He held me tight. “I love your bravery. But what if there is no answer?”
“But there has to be. You left dream lab before you heard all the stories, but they were full of meaning. Koo’s vision was of unzipping body bags – well, we would have had to unzip those suits. Soliz dreamed of being naked and ashamed. But Zane dreamed he was walking through an abandoned factory—“
“Now you’re talking!” said Chase excitedly. “You dreamed of Mrs. Corso’s body…and then we found it! An abandoned factory would be a great place to hide Howk’s body! These transitional objects are like doors into the next puzzle,” said Chase. “The one we haven’t solved is the Hadleigh one. That was overtly about Howk’s body so the answer must be there. What was the weirdest thing about it? The piece that doesn’t fit?”
He had always possessed this magic ability to fill me with confidence. “You’re right. I can do this. Well, the oddest part is, it wasn’t a thing – it was a person. Officer Blofil, the policeman we spoke to. He was the thing that didn’t belong. I read his nameplate so carefully, thinking at the time it was a funny name, kind of treasuring it. Because it was so memorable.”
He snatched his Smart phone off the coffee table. “So it is. Spell it.”
I spelled. He typed.
“No Officer Blofil on the campus force, or the town police. Here goes a general search.” He drummed his fingers impatiently.
I was impatient, too. The ghosts of all the murdered memories banged on my heart; an arrhythmia acquired when our hearts skipped and our bodies unsynched. If we wanted to re-possess ourselves, we needed a way back in.
“Let me know what you find.”
I wandered into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. This mugshot face was too familiar. I picked up Chase’s hair scissors and attacked my head. Snip, snip. Without my luxuriant locks, Corso would never have chosen me.
I’ve got it!” shouted Chase from the other room.
I brushed myself off and joined him.
“Recognize me?” I challenged. “I don’t want to look like anyone else any more.”
He smiled his most beautiful smile. “I’ll always recognize you.” I threw myself into his strong wrestler’s arms. We fit together perfectly, like interlocking parts.
He rubbed the top of my newly pinked head. “I know the feeling,” he reassured me. “Here’s the dream right here.” I could have wept from gratitude.
“So what did you find?” Now I could face it. Now I wanted to know. “You look,” he said, swiveling the phone towards me.
Headline: “Insulation Factory Closes, 50 Jobs Lost.” The sign on the gate said “Blow-fill”.
“Abandoned factory a hundred miles away,” suggested Chase. “”Trust Corso to invent a crime scene that provides its own cleanup.”
“We could get there in the Shelby in a couple of hours.”
“Or…” I murmured.
He understood me immediately. “You think it’ll work again?”
“No harm trying. I think we’re getting better at it. The first two times hurt so much I had a hangover. Now it’s not so bad.”
He laughed. “Other than the feeling of being beaten like a rented mule.”
Well, we couldn’t go through what we’d experienced and come off scot-free. I didn’t mention Bex lurking somewhere outside, with or without a gun. If we left our bodies, even though he might pursue he could wreak less damage.
Chase’s bed became our rocket ship.